A crushing accident can cause devastating injuries, from lost limbs to crushed and broken bones, and even to death depending on the severity of the damage. In the maritime industry there are many ways that an accident can cause someone to suffer a crush injury: falling cargo on a ship, a port vehicle or crane accident that pins a worker, or a fall overboard that leads to someone being crushed between two vessels.
If you have suffered an accident that causes a crush injury, your first concern should be getting emergency medical care. Once you are stable and understand the extent of your injuries, you can start to think about what your rights are under federal laws for workers’ compensation or compensation through the Jones Act. A maritime lawyer can help you determine what your rights are and will help you fight for what you deserve.
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What Are Crush Injuries?
Crush injuries are any injuries that are caused by pressure to part of the body that is severe enough to result in physical damage. That damage may be as minor as a bruise or as severe as broken, splintered bones or collapsed or punctured lungs. Crush injuries occur most commonly in the legs or feet. Upper extremity crush injuries are the next most common type, followed by crushed torso. The obvious results of a crush injury are damages to tissue. A crush accident can cause skin damage, cuts and tears, broken bones, injured nerves, and damaged organs. In addition to these outcomes there are other more serious and less obvious complications associated with crush injuries.
Complications of Crush Injuries
A crush injury may not seem life-threatening, although they can seem very serious. For instance, a crushed leg may be devastating, but it can also lead to death from a little-known condition called rhabdomyolysis. This occurs when the crushed muscle tissue begins to break down. The broken down components circulate into the blood and must pass through the kidneys. The kidneys may not be able to process all lf that material and may get blocked and stop working. The result is toxicity in the blood that can be deadly. This is also called crush syndrome.
Another very serious potential complication of a crush injury is sepsis or systemic infection. The open wounds caused by a crush can cause infection to set in. Depending on the type of injury and how severe it is, inner tissue, like deep muscles and bone, may be exposed to infection. A systemic infection can lead to death if not treated aggressively.
Compartment syndrome is another complication that can result from any type of crush injury. This occurs when pressure builds up in a confined space within the body. This can lead to oxygen starvation to that part of the body and cell death. Compartment syndrome caused by a crush injury is considered acute and can lead to limb loss, paralysis, or even death.
Treating Crush Injuries
All crushes should be taken seriously and require emergency medical care. Immediate first aid usually involves stopping any bleeding by applying pressure, covering the crushed area with a bandage, and elevating that area of the body above the heart if this is possible. If any damage has been done to the neck or head, the person is stabilized to avoid further harm.
Medical professionals treat crush injuries in different ways depending on the specifics of the injury. In general though, the patient is given fluids to prevent low blood pressure and shock. The patient is then usually given treatment for treating potential kidney failure. Emergency surgery may be needed to stop bleeding and repair damage or to relieve the pressure of compartment syndrome. Infections are treated with antibiotics. A patient may need multiple follow up surgeries to repair damage and to restore function to the affected part of the body if possible.
Causes of Crush Injuries in Maritime Settings
Crush injuries are the unfortunate result of accidents that often occur in maritime work environments. Any job that requires working around big equipment and large cargo means that crushing injuries are possible. In a port, for instance, a worker may get crushed between a forklift and a wall during an accident or by a crane in operation. Cargo, both on ships and in ports, can also cause crush injuries if it falls on a worker. A fall into the water can also cause a worker to be crushed between two vessels or between a ship and a dock.
Most instances of crush injuries caused by maritime accidents are preventable. For instance, falls from a ship into the water are often caused by poor deck conditions and clutter that is easy to trip over. Poor communication between workers, which ultimately results from poor training, can lead to accidents if one worker does not know where another is while operating equipment such as a crane. Improper securing of cargo can cause it to shift and fall. If equipment isn’t working right it can cause a worker to suffer a crushed limb.
Crushing accidents happen all too often in the maritime industry. In 2016 a worker was crushed to death when cargo was being unloaded from a ship to an offshore rig in Australia. As the weather worsened, the ship backed away from the rig and workers began to secure the cargo on the ship’s deck. Large waves caused an unsecured container to shift, crushing a man between two containers. A review of the accident determined that safety management guidance was not in place and as a result the crew made errors in judgment that led to the tragic accident.
Your Rights Following a Crushing Accident
If you suffered a crush injury as a result of an accident on the job in a port, in an offshore setting, or on a ship, you could be entitled to significant compensation for your pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills. As an offshore worker or longshoreman in a port, you have laws that entitle you to workers’ compensation regardless of who was at fault in the accident. If you are a seaman, the Jones Act gives you the ability to seek compensation if you can determine an employer’s negligence. Anything your employer should have provided, such as training, equipment maintenance, a safety system, or safety gear that was neglected could prove negligence.
Speak with an experienced maritime lawyer to get your claim filed and to find out what you may be owed. In the event that you are killed in a crush accident, your dependents will also have certain rights and a lawyer can be a helpful advocate in guaranteeing that they get what they need. Make sure you contact a lawyer to guide you before you sign anything offered to you by your employer or their insurance company. They will likely try to settle with you for less than you deserve.